Martin Seligman on this month's Edge thoughtfully discusses happiness and the role that his positive psychology movement and neuroceuticals will play in enabling people to live happier lives.
"I spent the first 30 years of my career working on misery. The first thing I worked on was learned helplessness. I found helpless dogs, helpless rats, and helpless people, and I began to ask...how do you break it up? What's the neuroscience of it? What drugs work?...About 25 years ago I began to ask the question, who never gets helpless? That is, who resists collapsing? And the reverse question is, who becomes helpless at the drop of a hat?... I found that optimistic people got depressed at half the rate of pessimistic people..."
"What's missing is the question of whether psychologists can make people lastingly happier. I'm interested in psychological ones, but an obvious question applies to pharmacology not to take people from -8 to -5, but to take people from +2 to +6. " (read enabling enhancement to learn more about this critical difference)
He then goes onto explain different types of happiness: First, "there is the pleasant life having as many of the pleasures as you can and the skills to amplify them and the good life knowing what your signature strengths are and recrafting everything you do to use them a much as possible. But there's a third form of life, and if you're a bridge player like me, or a stamp collector, you can have eudaemonia; that is, you can be in flow."
"My great ambition for psychology...is that in the next 10 to 15 years we will be able to...claim unblushingly that psychology and psychiatry will have decreased the tonnage of suffering in the world, but also increase the tonnage of happiness in the world.
"What are the "therapeutic" and drug prospects for positive psychology? The answer is probably yes for the pleasant life...There are also recreational drugs antidepressants don't bring pleasure, but recreational drugs do. I've never taken Ecstasy or cocaine, but I gather that they work on pleasure as well. At any rate, a pharmacology of pleasure is not science fiction, and I expect that as positive psychology matures our drug company friends will get interested in it." (To learn more about the political obstacles to developing safe and effective recreational tools read these two posts: "a call to fund recreational drug development" and "stuck with 4,000 year old tools).
The third form of happiness is meaning...knowing what your highest strengths are and deploying those in the service of something you believe is larger than you are. There's no shortcut to that. That's what life is about. There will likely be a pharmacology of pleasure, and there may be a pharmacology of positive emotion generally, but it's unlikely there'll be an interesting pharmacology of flow. And it's impossible that there'll be a pharmacology of meaning." (Read more of Martin's thoughts in his complete interview)
**As much as I tout the coming advances in neuroceuticals and their potential to improve emotional control, it is critical to realize that neuroceuticals are tools, tools for mental health. Creating a life of meaning and happiness requires using these tools to enable yourself to increase your capacity to continuously strive towards achieving those goals that bring each of you meaning and authentic happiness.**
Martin has raised $30 million in the last few years for the scientific infrastructure of positive psychology. If you have the time, visit his Web site, authentichappiness.org, where you take a variety of happiness and depression tests that will help you understand what type of interventions you might take in your own life to achieve a more meaningful, authentic form of happiness. Something, I know we are all interested in having a bit more of. Lastly, don't forget to take a deep breath right now and remind yourself to enjoy this day, wherever you are.